This Spring 3PL Central hosted a scholarship essay contest asking undergraduate and graduate students studying Supply Chain or Logistics Management to outline what they believe to be the next big advancement in Supply Chain Management. We decided to host this scholarship not only to help the aspiring youth in their academic endeavors, but to help the industry as well. Recently during conversations with our warehouse management system (WMS) customers, they have shared the difficulty in finding good talent in the logistics labor market. Employees with vision, expertise, and a drive to take their third-party logistics (3PL) business to the next level of success.

Because we believe education is the best path to nurture individuals that will improve our customers' businesses and the logistics industry as a whole, 3PL Central created the Supply Chain Scholarship. It is our hope that these scholarships will get future supply chain and logistics professionals thinking about how they can evolve our industry—thus helping our customers, the supply chain, and end consumers counting on the supply chain to deliver their goods.

Of the numerous entries we received and weeks of deliberating, we found our scholarship winner within Stacie Fan, attending the University of Maryland's Master of Science in Supply Chain Management. We want you to hear the future voices of the supply chain, so during the next several weeks, we will feature our scholarship winner and several runner ups in the 3PL Central blog. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will feature their insightful essays on the 3PL Central blog, showcasing the great talent that the future holds in these young professionals. We couldn't be more proud and excited for them. We hope you find value in their visions of the future.

Without further ado, here is Stacie's Essay describing the role of augmented reality in the supply chain.

As 5G is developing rapidly, we will see a fast-growing number of Augmented Reality (AR) used in the supply chain regarding sourcing, making, storing, delivery, and even returning process. Thanks to the technology, the data transition speed is significantly improved which allows the opportunity for enhanced visualization. The application of AR will have a huge impact on the current supply chain ecosystem.

The most direct impact will be the improvement of customer experience, both online and in-person. Especially in the fashion industry, instead of physically going to the store, customers can do fitting online now. Another example is to turn online grocery shopping into a virtual reality that customers can select products as if they are physically in the store so they can save waiting time.

Warehousing plays a significant role nowadays. The capabilities of the modern warehouse extend far beyond just a distribution center. To be more precise, the modern-age warehouses serve as a center to carry out more sophisticated services like product subassembly, which includes inspection, assembly, repairing, repacking, and dispatching. Applying AR for warehouse management activities such as order allocation, inventory management, order picking, and material handling will simplify warehouse operations and improve working efficiencies, thus reduce warehousing operation costs.

When designing or redesigning a warehouse, we need to focus on optimizing space utilization for potential emergencies, and safe storage of high-selling or seasonal goods. AR can help optimize the use of warehouse space through a digital and interactive 3D warehouse layout. For example, with AR technology, managers and staff will be able to wear AR glasses to visualize the warehouse layout and see if any changes or experiments will be feasible. It’s a great tool to help get comprehensive information and make decisions on any modification or improvement of the warehouse. Thus, it can reduce costs and save time on warehouse planning.

As for inventory management, using AR will allow managers and staff to manage stocks all hands-free. At the same time, the accuracy of inventory handling will also be improved.

The order picking process has always been time-consuming. Although there are robots that can assist human operations, the process is still heavily dependent on people. AR technology can improve information visualization so workers can get fast and correct information.

AR can be also used for training new staff more efficiently. Skilled workers in a warehouse (fulfillment center) have a higher turnover rate. To make sure newly hired workers get familiar with the operation process quickly, using AR can help train new staff in a standard procedure while using less manpower so managers can focus on other aspects of warehousing management. And this is particularly relevant in those industries where we have seasonality, and there are peaks in the demand that we need to hire people and have people up to speed.

Apart from the direct impact like warehousing management, there is also the indirect impact that AR can influence the supply chain. For example, last-mile delivery has always been challenging for many companies. Using AR technology, last-meter navigation becomes possible to add extra information about the drop-off location of the specific delivery.

New services can be offered now once we have AR like assembly and repair. In this sense, we can help with the post-assembly process of certain products and with the post-consumer services of offering additional services for repair products. We can also expect to see a reduced number of returns thanks to AR technology.

We are not going to neglect the impact AR has on other supply chain functions such as sourcing and producing. The goal is to reduce cost and achieve efficiency and accuracy. I think AR will soon be widely used in our life.

Xiao Ying Fan - 3PL Central Supply Chain Scholarship Winner-Stacie Fan, Winner and Recipient of the 3PL Central Supply Scholarship


Reif, R., Günthner, W.A. Pick-by-vision: augmented reality supported order picking. Vis Comput 25, 461–467 (2009).


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